There is a wide variety of medications that can be used to treat and control HIV/AIDS, and new medications are being created and improved constantly. These medications can help a person infected with HIV/AIDS to control and manage the disease. It is important to remember that none of these medications will cure the disease. However, if medications are taken correctly and consistently, they can help keep the virus under control. This can greatly increase a person’s chance for long-term survival, and can even decrease the risk of spreading the disease to others.
Using a combination of medications, commonly known as "drug cocktails," can create a series of obstacles that make it harder for the virus to make more copies of itself, including mutations of the disease that are resistant to drugs. Taking a prescribed combination of medications can more effectively stop the drug-resistant mutated viruses from making copies of itself, and can delay the spread of the disease overall.
Drugs must be combined carefully by a doctor to make sure that they can control the disease. The wrong combination of medications can limit the effect of the treatment.
Fusion and Entry Inhibitors
Fusion inhibitors work by preventing the virus from fusing with cell membranes so that it cannot enter the cell and reproduce. In order to survive and create more viruses, a virus must inject its genetic material into a T-cell. To do this, it must be able to open the cell membrane in certain places, just like putting a key in a lock to open a door. Fusion and entry inhibitors fill up these “keyholes” in the cell membranes so that the virus cannot attach to the cell and get inside. Fusion inhibitors can help to prevent uninfected, healthy body cells from becoming infected with the HIV/AIDS virus.
Protease Inhibitors (PLs) are medications that work by stopping protease, an enzyme or protein, from helping the virus to mature and become fully functional. Without protease, the HIV/AIDS virus cannot infect T-cells and make new viruses.
Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors
Reverse transcriptase inhibitors work to limit the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus by interrupting the life cycle of the virus and stopping the creation of new viruses.
There are three types of reverse transcriptase inhibitors:
- Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs),
- Nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NtRTIs),
- Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs).
These inhibitors block reverse transcriptase, an enzyme or protein that allows the parent virus to copy its genetic material and make new viruses. The ways in which NRTIs, NtRTIs and NNRTIs block reverse transcriptase are different, but the end results are the same - the HIV/AIDS viruses are not able to create new, functional copies of the itself, and the spread of the virus is controlled.
Common medication side effects include the following:
- Pain in your stomach or midsection,
- Hair loss,
- Weakness, tiredness or loss of strength,
- Fanconi Syndrome (decreased kidney functioning),
- Intestinal gas,
- High blood cholesterol,
- Hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin or nails),
- Ingrown nails,
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep,
- Liver failure,
- Muscle weakness or muscle pain,
- Nausea or vomiting,
- Dry skin,
- Dry mouth.
For more information about specific medications, please visit the United States Health and Services Website, AIDSinfo.